Sheppard vs. Chicago
The final week of the regular season featured a matchup with heavy Midwest Division playoff implications between the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds (6-4) and the Chicago Wildfire (7-4). The winner of the game would clinch a home field playoff game for round one, where the same two teams would meet in an elimination game. For Pittsburgh, the win would mean finishing 2019 with a winning record, completing an unlikely turnaround after finishing with a franchise-worst 4-10 record in 2018. The Week 15 game had been flexed to Game of the Week status, and would be broadcast nationally live on Stadium.
The Thunderbirds started off strong, scoring six of the first eight points to get off to a fast 6-2 lead. Pittsburgh never looked back after that, and by the start of the fourth quarter the game was essentially out of reach at 23-10 in favor of the T-Birds. Bullying the Wildfire all day with both his arm and his legs was MVP runner-up Max Sheppard. Coming out of a time out, Sheppard sees yet another opportunity to break deep when teammate Thomas Edmonds gets power position on the left side of the field. Few players of Sheppard’s size can high point the disc like him, and unfortunately for Chicago’s Alex Rummelhart, Sheppard puts his hops on display in what became the signature play of the game.
Rising up over his defender, Sheppard battles through contact to make the catch for his fifth goal of the game. Despite a hard landing where he briefly appeared to be injured, Sheppard was out there for the next Thunderbirds O-point and proceeded to score yet again. He finished the game with eight assists and six goals in a dominant 29-16 win. With home field advantage in round one of the playoffs, the Thunderbirds were able to defeat the Wildfire 21-20 the following week for the third time of the season, advancing to Indianapolis where they’d eventually fall short to the Midwest Division Champion Indianapolis AlleyCats.